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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Belfast riots ‘won’t impact on World Police games’

Loyalist protesters confront the police in the Woodvale Road area of North Belfast
Loyalist protesters confront the police in the Woodvale Road area of North Belfast

Lesley-Anne McKeown

RIOTING over disputed parades has not deterred World Police and Fire Games competitors from travelling to Belfast, a senior police officer said today.

Alistair Finlay, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable, said there had been no cancellations despite some people seeking reassurances after five nights of violence followed the annual Twelfth commemorations.

He said: "We have had a number of inquiries coming from abroad with people looking at some internet or news footage about Northern Ireland where they are a bit concerned.

"Where those have happened we have done outreach in terms of reassurance and where we have had specific questions we have answered that and been able to right that reassurance and people are still coming to the games.

"My assessment is that if people are not coming to the games it is not because of security."

Around 30 dog handlers from police forces across the UK are to be brought in to help the PSNI while duties such as venue security and searching carried out by the private security firm, Resource.

Mr Finlay, who is in charge of the overall policing operation said the severe threat from dissident republican terrorists rated would not hamper the games.

He added: "The security risk and threat to police officers is there - it has been with us for so long now and that is sad and unfortunate but we know our business; we know how to go about our business and we know how to keep our people safe.

"We have been working at this for some time -- much longer than we had for the G8 -- so, we are confident in the detail and in terms of the operation that we have.

"From the outset we have enough policing to enable people to be able to feel safe, secure and reassured but not so much that people feel intimidated. Should we have a need we will flex and adapt accordingly.

"It won't be fortress Northern Ireland -- that would defeat the purpose of this event. The plan is to make these the friendliest games."

To date 6,682 serving and retired police and fire fighters from 67 countries including Brazil, India, Russia and Bermuda have registered for the 10-day event which starts on August 1.

Organisers had hoped to attract over 10,000 competitors but have revised the figures down to around 7,000.

The largest contingent of participants will fly in from the United States and Canada with around 700 registered from Northern Ireland and over 400 from the Republic.

A further 3,500 volunteers have also signed up to help out at the 41 venues which will host the 56 different sports.

The opening ceremony takes place at a specially constructed arena in the Kings Hall and will include music from Peter Corry and Brian Kennedy as well as the Music Theatre for Youth group. There will also be a traditional athletes parade. Tickets were snapped up within 48 hours.

An athletes village will be set up at Custom House Square in Belfast city centre.

Dame Mary Peters, patron for the 2013 World Police and Fire Games, said: "These games are our Olympics.

"There will be a huge buzz around Belfast -- it will be a fantastic experience that our international competitors and their families will never forget."

This is the first time the games have been hosted on the British Isles and is only the third time in their 28-year history that they will be hosted in Europe.

Outside Belfast, there are events in areas such as North Down, Newcastle, Newtownabbey, Cookstown and the north coast.

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